If you’re in tune with the ceaseless chatter that makes up Twitter, you may have run across the most recent item to get everyone worked into a lather: the fact that The Atlantic asked a writer to repurpose a story of his for their website, and do it for free. That writer subsequently took to his own blog to regale his readership (and now the masses) with the unfortunate story, and The Atlantic has since pushed back in their own way, issuing semi-apologies and justification for the fact that they, indeed, asked someone to work for free.
Now, I freelance, but to the tune of $350 for the year, and only for a single publication. I don’t do it because I need the money, and I don’t often write more than a hundred words. My posts for this blog are generally double the length of what I write for City Newspaper. That being the case, I don’t have much of a dog in this fight. I think it’s unfortunate on both sides – that Nate Thayer was asked to work for free, and that The Atlantic has apparently fallen so far that they need to ask someone to do just that. But I do think that good writing – particularly writing that’s recognized by individuals at The Atlantic as having merit – needs to be rewarded with more than vague promises of exposure.
On the wholly opposite end of the spectrum is the strange case of another music blog called Indie, Bikes, and Beer, who have run a now-successful Kickstarter campaign for $12,500 in order to further their blog’s design and reach. If you follow us on Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve been rather vocal about my disdain for the blog itself, and for the fact that they had the audacity to even ask for money at all. I reduced the affair to mean-spirited jokes and hashtags, but the question is this: why do I even care? Why does it matter that another music blogger asked for, and subsequently received, a large sum of money from individuals he may or may not know? In reality, that blog doesn’t affect me on a personal level, and it doesn’t diminish what remains of our blog’s readership, and it doesn’t negatively affect any other blog(ger) that we happen to like (which is an admittedly small number).
I don’t have a good answer to those questions. It’s possible that, in some sense, receiving $12,500 to write a music blog that has been in existence for less than six months is an affront – and not to me per se, but to the other bloggers that do a better job of it than I could hope to, and who have grinded out their blogs for years without any significant monetary compensation.
It’s possible that my hackles are raised from the thought that a music blog that is centered in Boston displayed an utter lack of regard for all the other bloggers located in the same city – blogs that have been combining beer and music for much longer, blogs that already have their own acoustic shows, blogs that are already sponsoring SxSW showcases. That sum of money could bring everyone up, and the inclusion of other blogs would have undoubtedly made the project more worthwhile.
It’s possible that I’m annoyed because asking for $12,500 to write a music blog smacks of an inflated sense of how important that “job” really is. Writing a blog has always demanded a balance between self and band promotion. Sure, we want to be read, and commented on, and respected among our peers. But more important than that is the fact that these bands we love, who entrust their creative output to us, are really the ones who should be promoted, and asking for money to get your own name out there before the bands you’re promoting seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse.
It’s probable that I’m annoyed because $12,500 could do a lot of good for a lot of bands who deserve that money more than any blogger does. That kind of funding, used wisely, could fund the next best album we’ve ever heard. Or it could let a band tour outside of their home city, or fund a 7″ release, or any number of things that have more tangible value than any blog does.
And it’s also possible that I’m angry because I never thought to ask for money to do this. Perhaps it’s always been that easy, and I never needed to fund this endeavor out of my own pocket.
But really, there’s not a “right” or “magic” way to start a music blog. Whether or not the trio at Indie, Bikes, and Beer is $12,500 richer doesn’t negate the fact that there have always been – and will continue to be – outlets writing about music that are doing it for what we’d all consider to be the right reasons, and not simply to inflate their own brand. And it doesn’t force me to navigate to the site to support their endeavors.
In the end, whether Thayer goes unpaid by The Atlantic or Indie, Bikes, and Beer has $12,500 to produce carelessly worded and poorly edited reviews, both seem to me to be about the same issue: good writing, like any good art, has value, and when the least common denominator is rewarded, it’s discouraging.